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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's the color of your skin

In honor of my Complete Idiot's Guide to Catherine Wheel over on Jeff's blog, here's a little essay about the band's most-remembered tune, "Black Metallic."

I don't remember who said this, but Catherine Wheel's "Black Metallic" was once described as the "Rock You Like a Hurricane" of the '90s. I don't know if that comment was made to be sincere or tongue-in-cheek, but the point is, the song rocks in a good way. Yet I find matters a little strange that this track is their best known song.

At over seven minutes in length, "Black Metallic" is not a bad song at all. The shortened single version got plenty of rotation back in 1992 and 1993. Alternative/modern rock radio was really coming into its element now as an FM powerhouse to the right of the dial. "Black Metallic" was one of its popular tracks, along with "I Want to Touch You," another single from the band's debut album, Ferment. Catherine Wheel would go on to make four proper albums after this before going on indefinite hiatus. As easy as it would be the just let matters slide, I gotta say that this band was way more than a "one hit wonder."

Singles like "Crank," "Delicious" and "Judy Staring at the Sun" got some nice airplay too, but I don't know if they ever reached the same level of notoriety as "Black Metallic." "Waydown," the lead single from the band's third album, Happy Days, got plenty of airplay in '95 and also got some exposure through some rather non-traditional outlets. Beavis and Butt-head raved about the song's video and this can now be found on the Beavis and Butt-head: The Mike Judge Collection Vol. 1. The video also popped up in a made-for-TV movie about teenage alcoholism. Cutting between a poolside breakdown with clips of Catherine Wheel vocalist/guitarist Rob Dickinson singing, this made for an interesting sight while I watched the movie in my high school health class.

Years later, a certain single called "Jumper" by Third Eye Blind received a lot of airplay on radio, MTV and VH1. Featuring a similar chord progression in the chorus and a very similar middle-8 section to "Black Metallic," longtime Catherine Wheel were pissed. At that point, I didn't see what the fuss was until I listened closely to the song. Hearing the song again this morning, the similarities are definitely there, but not to a point where the claim could be thrown into a lawsuit.

For us Catherine Wheel fans, it's easy to think of "Black Metallic" whenever we hear "Jumper." We think about a band that made great rock music that is still fresh today. I don't think you can say the same about Third Eye Blind, but I could be wrong. That band had some decent singles, but they also an annoying frontman who overshadowed the whole band. That wasn't the case with Catherine Wheel. They were popular in their day, but when it comes down to the selling of memories back as nostalgia, we tend to only get one song. That's why I had to do a Complete Idiot's Guide for these guys. All of their records have slipped out of print, but you can still find them in used record stores. Enjoy the MP3s and grab them while you can -- they're up for only a week.

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